THIS time a year ago, Michael Carton was gathering dust on the inter-county shelf, looking on as Dublin defied conventional modern hurling wisdom and won the league — their first Division 1 title in 72 years.
A new job in the emergency services wasn’t, he thought, conducive to giving the commitment required and a couple of irritating injuries tipped him over the edge.
Anthony Daly wasn’t inclined to giving up on his man, though, particularly after watching Carton’s exhibition for O’Toole’s against St Jude’s in the opening round of the Evening Herald Dublin SHC ‘A’ and immediately invited him back onto the panel for training the very next night.
“I hadn’t it planned at all,” Carton says of his convenient and mutually beneficial return to the squad. “It was just the way the year worked out between work commitments and the injuries I had… I was playing well with the club an enjoying hurling again so it was great to be back with the panel.”
That was mid-May and by August, he was starting in an All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary.
Timing is clearly a trait Carton possesses but equally admirable is the lack of fuss with which he goes about his hurling business.
“I was hoping that if I was going to come back, I would be able to bring something to the team,” he admits. “I thought the fitness was there because of how the club thing was going.
“It’s a huge commitment. But I’ve organised it now that between work and training, I’m not missing either.”
A starter in both of Dublin’s opening two league games of this season, he has therefore tasted defeat twice but in vastly contrasting circumstances.
Opening day against Galway, Dublin were flatter than a pancake under an articulated lorry but Daly got his reaction — if not the result he craved — last Sunday against Cork.
“You shouldn’t need a bad performance to get that out of you,” Carton insists of the turnaround.
“Sometimes you can’t put your finger on it. The result was very disappointing but the positive was, the performance was there.
“After the Galway game we were very disappointed with the way we performed ourselves so it was good to get out and play in Croke Park with that bit of freedom and hunger and bite that we had last year.”
He’s aware that Dublin conceded too often after scoring themselves, most notably Cathal Naughton’s stinging response to Simon Lambert’s goal, but isn’t a great man for over-analysis.
Take this Sunday, for instance, when Dublin travel to Nowlan Park to take on the overlords of hurling. He could very likely be marking TJ Reid, a man who has had two stunning performances for Kilkenny in their opening two victories, but Carton doesn’t spend much time watching other teams or individuals.
“Personally I don’t. I don’t watch many games or worry about that stuff too much. You know how good a fella you’re going to come up against when you play the likes of Kilkenny or Tipperary so it’s not going to make that much of a difference.
“Each to their own. Each player prepares their own way.
“Like, we watch videos of fellas we’re going to be marking in the championship but personally, I just presume every opponent is going to be good so once my head is in the right place, I’m happy enough.”
Which may be just as well in the context of Sunday’s latest renewal of pleasantries with the Cats.
Carton is old enough to remember a time, not so long ago, when Dublin teams travelled to Nowlan Park as a bus full of beaten men, dazzled and tormented by the stripey hurling nobility.
They might not have seized power in the interim, but the inferiority complex has, at least, dissipated.
“It’s from experience,” Carton explains. “A couple of years ago, we started to beat these teams in the league and play well at these sort of venues.
“The team starts to get mentally stronger within itself.
“The young lads come through with no fear, as well. That helps because they’ve beaten all these teams at minor and under-21 so they bring a lot of confidence there.
He adds: “Nowlan Park … Kilkenny are going great guns but you can’t buy that sort of experience, playing them in their home ground.
“It’s a challenge that you look forward to. You learn a lot,” concludes Dublin’s wing-back.
– Conor McKeon- Evening Herald